Spa cuisine: Food for Thought

Feast for the senses

By Deborah Mangum-Copelli

Fresh. Seasonal. Local. Organic. Wholistic. Nutritious. Aesthetic. Natural. These are just some adjectives used to describe a new wave of eating preferences by spa-goers worldwide. It’s taken on a growth spurt unlike any before. Where past references to “health-food” or “hippie-food” prevailed in the seventies to nineties, the new millennium refers lovingly to the same organic food/wholeness phenomenon as “spa cuisine”. Famous chefs globally are getting into this fresh, local and organic mindset, serving up some artistically designed wholefood where less is more, and more nutritionally balanced is better. Spa food not only satisfies the body of hunger, but stimulates the mind with its beautiful presentation and serves the soul through the energy of those preparing and delivering it.

I caught up with Gaia Retreat & Spa chef, Todd Cameron, to get some of his “food for thought”. Todd said he tries not to be dogmatic in his approach to food, but to appeal more openly to the guests at Gaia. He’s not tied down to macrobiotic, Ayurvedic or any set food principal but draws from many cultures. He believes food must provide delicious enjoyment as much as balance. It must be clean, healthy and whole. At Gaia, Todd does not serve any red meat, but creates with free-range organic poultry, local organic vegetables, fresh herbs from Gaia’s organic garden and local seafood of fresh fish and select shellfish. One of Todd’s favourite dishes is a variation of a Japanese classic called, “Okinamiyaki”. Traditionally, this dish uses mountain yam flour and cabbage. Todd’s rendition mixes brown rice flour and cabbage to make the pancake, which is topped with two seared prawns, wakame salad with Japanese mayonnaise and a sweet soya drizzle.

At Gaia, Todd prepares lunch and dinner each day according to the “trends in the group that day”. He reviews each guest’s preferences, food aversions and allergies from their check-in consultation cards. He says there tends to be a pattern even though guests may not know one another. And of course, for guests with strict dietary needs, he prepares special dishes.

What really sets Todd Cameron apart from just any chef is the “energy” he puts into his food. He provides inspiration for his cooking team and assures they are feeling well and at peace, not tired or grumpy. He truly believes that when the kitchen is filled with grace and love, the food will taste and present better. He says food must be prepared with reverence and he predicts that this is the wave of the future for food. To hear more from Todd visit

According to spa cuisine guru, Hunter Reynolds, this new food preference is, “essentially taking our food preparation and cooking methods back to the simpler and less refined ways of the past. As we have evolved, things have become more and more refined; the natural processes of storage and cooking have been replaced with chemicals and microwaves. With spa cuisine we try to use the natural elements in food to assist the body in its day to day processes without placing unnecessary strain on it.”
To obtain a copy of Hunter’s manual, email

Restaurant critic, Rita Erlich, writes of Joseph’s restaurant at the Sofitel Mansion & Spa at Werribee near Melbourne, “Chef Paul Raynor’s menu is very much in keeping with the restaurant, blending old and new by using classic French techniques and a contemporary approach. The food often has Asian influences, but is always clear-flavoured and very attractively presented. He’s got a great hand with fish – try the coriander-crusted seared yellowfin tuna, with the bright jewel-like colours of the fish and the balanced textures of soft fish and salad (often shiitake mushroom). The Barossa Valley chicken on truffled mash and wild mushroom jus is also a winner. Go for a spa treatment and stay for lunch or a wander through the gardens, and have dinner, a good sleep and breakfast.”

On its website, Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat in Queensland says its food is, “certified organic and every step from paddock to plate has been carefully considered. Each ingredient in the food is evaluated and only included if full of nutrients to sustain and energise you for your day. The quality of the ingredients included in recipes and the delight and passion of the kitchen staff create the amazing cuisine that Gwinganna guests rave about.

“[Gwinganna] food philosophy is based around the belief that Mother Nature knows best. Low human intervention food [Low HI], where the food has undergone no, or minimal, changes from its place in nature to your plate… Too many foods today have lost this simple yet essential philosophy. A Gwinganna experience allows guests to re-evaluate their relationship with food and to experience and learn about the meaning of true nourishment. In keeping with this essential philosophy, the Gwinganna chefs cater to food allergies and intolerances with creativity and flair.”
For more about Gwinganna, visit

To keep yourself as fit on the inside as the out, go for nutritious, high-energy, balanced food. In many spas you can now order “spa cuisine” to complement all those gorgeous treatments. This is real food, organic when possible, with fresh herbs, grain-fed free-range, colourful and cooked with little or no fat, steamed, broiled, poached, grilled and never fried – unless stir-fried dry. It’s gourmet art, as well as just good food prepared with all “the right stuff” to keep you healthy, vibrant and well fueled.

And you can have “spa cuisine” right in your own home too; it’s much easier than traditional fare and your whole family will benefit. If you do a Google search on spa cuisine, choices abound; some with the most wonderful recipes. Winter is a great time to roast vegetables, chestnuts and pumpkin, so go ahead – you’ll feel better for it.

Generally speaking, we all need to eat more raw green vegetables, a colourful array of fresh vegetables, no more than two pieces of fruit per day and drink at least eight glasses of water a day. And think of dairy and all animal fats and products as a treat only, if you must eat them at all.

Okinamiyaki (Japanese Cabbage Pancakes) with Seared Scallop/Prawn and Watercress
These pancakes are quite simple. When you’ve done them once they can be whipped up in minutes. This dish works well with plump, fresh scallops or prawns. Alternatively, frozen scallops can be used, defrost them in a bowl of room temperature water for five minutes.

• Serves 6-8
• Preparation time 15 minutes

Ingredients – pancakes:
• ½ cup of rice flour
• ½ cup gluten-free flour mixture or plain wheat flour
• 1 tspn bonito flakes
• ¼ tspn sea salt
• 1½ cups water
• 1 ½ cups cabbage cut into fairly thin strips
• 2 scallops with roe on for each pancake
• 2 sprigs watercress per pancake

Ingredients – dressing:
• Japanese mayonnaise
• ABC brand sweet soy sauce

1. In a bowl, mix flours, bonito flakes and sea salt using a whisk to mix the dry ingredients.
2. Add water and mix well until no lumps remain (depending on gluten-free flour, more or less water is needed, add water until quite a runny batter is formed).
3. Add cabbage strips.
4. Heat a pan until quite hot, add a little oil and spoon batter onto pan, either make approximately 8cm round individual pancakes or one large pancake and slice it.
5. When edges are drying and a few bubbles appear in the centre of the pancake, flip it over and cook for a further minute. 6. The scallops/prawns can be fried in the same pan at the same time, or in a separate pan. Fry for approximately one minute each side.
7. Remove the pancake from the pan, slice in half and place two halves slightly overlapping with watercress between them.
8. Squeeze a dollop of the mayonnaise on top in the centre and a zig zag of the sweet soy over the pancakes, and the scallops/prawns on top.

A nasturtium flower makes a colourful, peppery garnish.

Deborah Mangum-Copelli is Managing Director of Cogum Enterprises Pty. Ltd., an International Spa Design, Development, and Consultancy Company, Owner-Director of Zen Day Spa Pty. Ltd., Sydney, Owner-Director of SpaFision, Inc., USA. Deborah’s experience spans hotel, resort and day spa projects in Asia Pacific, the U.S. and Europe. You can email her on

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